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Fighting Resignation

fidelcastro.jpgFidel Castro resigns. The headlines shook the world, at least the western hemisphere. It’s not that the move came as a total surprise. Cuba watchers have long anticipated the final demise of this increasingly weakened dictator. But, it still seems unbelievable to people of my age who vaguely remember his rise to power. On the surface, he was irreverent, uncouth and brash; in the covert confines of his country, he ran a totalitarian regime with killing squads and governmental fiat. As for me, I’m as happy to see him go as anyone. But I am far more curious about the psychological underpinnings that prompted this brutal dictator to step down of his own accord, than the political ramifications of Cuba’s future. I could see this swashbuckling rebel going down in a blaze of glory; I never pictured him fading into old age, with trembling hands turning all of his accumulated power over to a kid brother.

The question is, then, why do people give up? What prompted a grizzly old despot like Castro to call it quits? What guts the will of any formerly feisty and aggressive person to the point that he or she no longer retains a desire to acquire, to govern or to protect life-long achievements? It is unthinkable. I have been stunned by the unlikely metamorphosis of people who have been known as icons of resolve into pathetic weaklings who couldn’t care less about what happens. It’s not a pretty thing to see people resign themselves to basic irrelevancy and neutered non-factors, even while they look on from the sidelines as their very purpose for living goes up in smoke.

Advancing age, fatigue, prolonged sickness, diminishing resources and deepening disappointments in life deliver a profound effect upon the human will to fight on. Always before, it seems that a reserve of inner power exists from which a person can draw to continually replenish his or her supply of forcefulness and vitality. Everybody gets tired. After a few days of R&R, it’s back to the battle lines with renewed vigor and vision. At some point, however, the human body and mind can no longer recoup the lost strength. Diversions and vacations fail to revive that old never-say-die attitude. Diminished capacity to handle the rigors of the fight renders a person helpless and vulnerable. Eventually, resignation remains the only sensible option left.

It is against this background that the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy take on a potency that defies human logic. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” 2 Tim 4:6-7. I am struck with these poetic words. Clearly, Paul knows he is on a death watch. His admonition to his son in the gospel, however, reflects his passion for the fight. He did not permit the decline of his personal welfare to cast a shadow over the righteousness of his convictions nor the urgency of his cause. Even as he awaited the somber footfalls of his executioner plodding down the hallway, the fire of his calling consumed him. He was engaged in a heaven and hell struggle and the stakes were eternal; if he could not carry the fight to the enemy, he would tirelessly recruit others who could and would. What a way to go.

Today’s Apostolics find themselves embattled against an enemy who has no more power than he ever had, but who commandeers a progressively wider range of weapons than ever before. The insidious nature of these evil forces keeps watchmen on the alert. Never before has there been so many ways for Satan to infiltrate the hearts and minds of people. Interestingly enough, the scriptures speak of two natural elements that represent the adversities we face: wind and water. The wind sweeps across the countryside with withering strength, knocking down walls, uprooting trees and carrying houses to distant destinations. It is possible, however, to build a house so strong that it can resist the gales of wind that threatened it. The aftermath of a violent windstorm leaves wreckage and destruction in its wake, but usually it can be repaired and it doesn’t last that long.

Water, on the other hand, causes far more damage than wind ever could. Flood waters rise around dwelling places. Water may not knock down walls or violently carry deadly pieces of roofs or branches of trees through the air, but it surrounds its target, seeking to make inroads into the most secure places through every possible nook and cranny. Water warps wood, stains walls, ruins carpets, wipes out mementoes, destroys interiors, undermines foundations and can completely destroy a house. And much of this damage can occur while the occupants sleep in the upper levels, unaware of the devastation going on below. Even so, the spiritual enemy we face today does not just come roaring down the road, announcing his invasion. He silently slips around us, seeping into our lives through a thousand different unobserved cracks and openings. I’m sure this is why the scripture says, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” Isaiah 59:19.

When the damage seems so complete and when the defenses against it appears to be so ineffective, great discouragement can set in. This may be the reason many seasoned veterans of the gospel tire of the incessant fighting that it takes to keep on top of things. Each time they launch an initiative against creeping worldliness, each time they identify a harmful weapon, each time they sound a clarion call to rally the troops, they garner less and less support. Self doubt and self recriminations rattle their resolve. Eventually, they turn a blind eye to the encroachment of the enemy and either rationalize their changes or begin living in the glories of the past.

But nothing could be more frustrating or more shameful than to spend one’s life advancing the kingdom of God and building strong lives for the glory of God, only to capitulate in the end. Paul said it was a good fight. We need to hold tightly to his advice. The fight is not good in one’s youth, but bad in retirement years. The fight is not good when the strength is up, but bad when it is gone. The fight is not good when you are winning, but bad when you are losing. No. The fight is good in its essence, not just in its longevity. If the fight was good in the beginning of one’s ministry, it is good at the close as well.

The alternative to resignation is delegation, and ultimately, transference. None of us will live forever. We all experience a rise to power, a reign of power and a decline of power. The baton we received from our elders at the beginning when we rose to power was ours to carry until we finished our course. When the end of the course comes into view, we must not suddenly consider our mission as a personal failure and toss the baton of truth and righteousness aside. We must not feel that since we can’t do it ourselves, nobody can do it. We have a stable of fresh runners ahead of us who are willing and eager to grasp the same truths that were given to us and run like the wind. Who knows whether or not they will succeed? For that matter, who knew whether or not WE would succeed? Those who ran before us believed as much in us as they believed in the message. Just because they couldn’t carry it any longer did not mean that they gave up.

Resign if you must. None of us can run forever, at least in this life. Resign, but finish! You haven’t finished until you have delivered your goods intact into the hands of the succeeding generation. Fight on. Fight resignation. Fight fatigue. Fight discouragement. When your strength wanes, your resolve weakens and physical declension tests your commitment, you have an obligation to continue on until you reach the transfer zone. When you feel the hand of the young runner curl around the precious cargo that you have carried down the stretch, only then can you slow your stride and get your rest.

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